The Rabelo Boat: Barco Rabelo

October 4, 2023

Before the construction of the railway or roads, the Port Wine reached Vila Nova de Gaia cellars through the masterpiece of naval carpentry called the Barco Rabelo and through the courage of the men who operated it. These Douro drivers went up and down the turbulent waters of the river, facing strong, fast, and often deadly currents.

Despite their fragile appearance the Barco Rabelo transported between 40 and 100 barrels of wine and 7 to 12 men through canyons, submerged rocks, and steep slopes. The Barco Rabelo is the typical cargo boat on the Douro River that sailed with this function for the last time in 1971.

The Barco Rabelo is a cargo transport boat with distinctive features, such as being a wooden mountain river boat without a keel, boasting a flat bottom, square sail, and measuring 19 to 23 meters in length, often given names with faith-related connotations. Although the Barco Rabelo’s existence predates the 18th century, it wasn’t until 1792 that the Companhia Geral da Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro legislated their use. Due to the absence of shipyards in Porto at the time, these boats were constructed on the beaches upon request.

The Rabelo Boat in the begining of the XX century, at Régua, Douro Valley.

Rabelo Boat in 1911, at Régua, Douro Valley.

If you find yourself in Porto on June 24th, St. John’s Day (Festas de São João), don’t miss the chance to live an unforgettable experience on the night of the 23rd to the 24th by attending the Rabelos Boat Regatta, organized by the Confraria do Vinho do Porto. This event aims to immortalize the past of this vessel type, which played a significant role in the history and economy of Port Wine and celebrates tradition.

Today, Rabelo boats can still be found along the Douro River on both the Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia banks, ready to welcome visitors. You can take a tour between the banks or opt for “The Cruise of Six Bridges” over the river, an ideal choice for those seeking a privileged view of Porto and later enjoying a glass of Porto Wine at the wine cellars of Gaia.

The Barco Rabelo Pinhão Tour stands as a great boat tour option on the Douro River, offering numerous reasons to partake in this experience and escape the hustle and bustle of the city environment. This Rabelo boat tour will treat you to unique and breathtaking landscapes: the iconic Port Wine houses nestled in the mountains, the terraced vineyards, the vibrant colors of the vegetation, land, and vineyards, the tranquility of the river waters, the serenity, and the imaginative freedom to contemplate how it was possible to navigate the river laden with wine barrels.

Embarking barrels of Port Wine at Pinhão before sailing to Vila Nova de Gaia.

Rabelo Boat in 1911, at Pinhão, Douro Valley.

On our Douro Day Tour, you will have the opportunity to enjoy a Barco Rabelo Boat Trip in Pinhão, which is one of the most breathtaking Douro Boat Tours available. To book this unforgettable experience, please visit our website or our app at for more information. It’s a must-do when visiting Porto and arguably one of the best tours in Portugal.! This experience should engage all your senses, documented through photography and guided by specialists.